Monday, February 17, 2003

But he doesn't know the territory
I made a mistake. I watched "The Music Man" on Saturday night. Yes, I meant Saturday night. Can you believe it? I forgot about the remake on Sunday.

I watched my DVD of the Robert Preston version on Saturday, so it was fresh in my mind when I tuned in to Matthew Broderick (late, unfortunately: I missed "Trouble"). Now, I am not one of those who automatically rejects remakes, especially not of shows as popular as "Music Man". I don't think a week goes by that someone isn't mounting a production of it somewhere, because it's a difficult show to kill.

As someone said in another context, every generation has a right to grow up feeling that these characters are theirs, not their parents'.

It should have worked out okay, because I should have discovered that the Preston version has not aged well, which would have primed me for a new, young cast at their creative peaks to take over the show and make it theirs.

Unfortunately, the Robert Preston "Music Man" has aged quite well, because it doesn't try to be "natural": It may just be a perfect musical, perfectly cast. And the Broderick version is only adequate. Everybody hits their marks, sings pretty much on key, and generally allows the script and music to work -- but nobody is inspired. Oddly, the Preston version, which doesn't bother trying to look like anything other than a filmed stage show (it even fades to black between scenes) rings truer than the more realistic television setting.

Preston is larger than life: Broderick is exactly life size.

Perhaps Broderick felt that, having taken over Gene Wilder's part in "The Producers" and made it his, he could do the same here. Perhaps he can. He didn't.

MUCH LATER: I really wanted the new Music Man to work. Here are things they did right:

(1) So far as I was able to determine, except for minor changes in staging that minimized the appearance of physical harm to little Winthrop for comedy's sake (he doesn't actually fall out of the tree, and he's never considered having run away), they actually performed the play as written. They didn't update, they didn't "improve", they didn't tweak.

(2) Kristin Chenoweth. The interviews implied she would play Marian as a modern liberated woman. I was quite please to learn that wasn't true, but disappointed that it came as a revelation that Marian has an "edge". Even a casual viewing of Shirley Jones' portrayal will show that she understood it. In road show and high school productions, Marian is largely a cypher, though, and Kristin actually comes close to Jones' depth. After seeing Matthew Broderick's watery performance, it was a pleasure to find stronger spirits in Chenoweth.

(3) Couldn't have asked for more from the kid playing Winthrop. The resolution of the play hinges on his delivery of the question, "What band?" He didn't disappoint.

No comments: